Have you ever found something that you adored so much you were torn between sharing your find and keeping the precious thing a secret all to yourself for just a wee bit longer?
The last few books I read were so wonderful that although I wasn't thinking of keeping them secret, I wanted to wallow for a long, long time in the emotions their endings brought in their wake before talking about the books with you all.
Instead, what I did was jump from the end of one book headlong into the beginning of another, trying to fill the void created by the conclusion of one with the promise of another beautiful story.
The first book I read in this phase of incessant reading was Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. Here is a brilliant review of the book, and I love how the reviewer says the novel is "a great big confidence trick - but one that invites the reader to take part in its deception."
The story revolves around Ursula Todd (among a plethora of characters) right from the day she is born, at first she is still-born, then in another chapter the catastrophe of still-birth is avoided by the timely arrival of the family doctor on the scene, through her childhood where she is once a victim of a drowning accident but then again is not when she is given a chance to relive her life, to her sixteenth birthday when she is a victim of rape and she is with child as a result of the episode and her mother turns cold against her and her life is reduced to a series of wrong choices made out of guilt and misery, and yet again to her sixteenth birthday, only this time she is able to kick her attacker in the balls and escape becoming a victim and goes on to lead different lives altogether, once as a friend of Hitler's mistress, in another path of life she helps in the war efforts. And so much more. Each time she is given a fresh chance at life, a chance at walking a different path, at choosing the other path in the fork.
As Atkinson makes one of her characters say towards the end of the book: "What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn't that be wonderful?"
It took me two weeks of reading after work and two days of incessant all-day reading while on a holiday to finish the book. At first I felt it moved very slowly, but once the book had me in its grip I could not let go. Every time something bad happened to Ursula, I knew she would have a chance to do it again and better this time. And that kept me going.
This is a Gothic suspense novel although I did not know that when I first picked up the book. It is the story of a bookshop owner's daughter and author - Margaret Lea - who is called upon by a famous novelist Vida Winter to write the latter's biography. Winter has secrets in her past that have so far eluded journalists and now she wants to bare all to Lea. There is an element of the supernatural in this, and since I have a habit of reading until I am asleep, I spent many a sleepless night while reading this book.
The prose is beautiful, like music.
Like the passage below.
"Words I can understand. Give me a torn or damaged fragment of text and I can divine what must have come before and what must come after. Or if not, I can at least reduce the number of possibilities to the most likely option. But music is not my language. Were these five notes the opening of a lullaby? Or the dying fall of a lament? It was impossible to say. With no beginning and no ending to frame them, no melody to hold them in place, whatever it was that bound them together seemed precariously insecure. Every time the first note struck up its call there was a moment of anxiety while it waited to find out whether its companion was still there, or had drifted off, lost for good, blown away by the wind. And so with the third and the fourth. And with the fifth, no resolution, only the feeling that sooner or later the fragile bonds that linked this random set of notes would give way as the links with the rest of the tune had given way, and even this last, empty fragment would be gone for good, scattered to the wind like the last leaves from a winter tree."
This one got right into my head. It is a thriller and is narrated from the point of view of Nick - whose wife disappears on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary - and his wife Amy through her entries in a diary until the day of her disappearance. Right at the outset the author makes it evident that Nick has been withholding information from the police and from the readers as well. Halfway through the novel it becomes clear that Amy has been deceitful in her narration too.
Flynn has a way of voicing her characters' thoughts so well you might as well be right in their heads where it is all happening, all the thoughts and the thinking, the planning the plotting, the cheating and the conniving. I didn't quite like how the story ended when I finished reading - but now that I have had time to think about it a little more, I suppose it couldn't have ended any other way. I can't say more without giving away the plot.
I finished reading this only yesterday so I can't quite talk about it without something inside me shifting at the thought of the book and the memory of the emotions it stirred in me as I read it.
The book follows the journey of Harold Fry who is walking a 600-mile route from Kingsbridge in the south of England to Berwick-upon-Tweed from where an old colleague of his (from more than 20 years ago) has written to him to say she is dying of cancer. Somehow he believes that by walking to her, he will save her. He will keep walking, and she will go on living. The book is a story of his remarkable journey on foot, the places he traverses, the people he meets, his introspections and reflections en route, his memories, his regrets, his doubts alternating with confidence, moments of desperation to give up interspersed with wretched determination to stay on course. It is also narrated from the point of view of his wife Maureen, who swings from indignation at his having walked out on her to doubt and regret at having let the past twenty years of marriage slip away in quiet rage to remembering and rediscovering the man Harold was when they had first met.
If Setterfield's narration was music, Joyce's prose is like listening to the compositions of Beethoven or Bach.
"Late in the afternoon, the rain stopped so abruptly it was hard to credit there had been any at all. To the east, the cloud tore open and a low belt of polished silver light broke through. Harold stood and watched as the mass of grey split again and again, revealing new colours: blue, burnt umber, peach, green and crimson, then the clouds became suffused with a dulled pink, as if those vibrant colours had bled through, merging as they met. He could't move. He wanted to witness every change. The light on the land was gold; even his skin was warm with it. At his feet the earth creaked and whispered. The air smelt green and full of beginnings. A soft mist rose, like wisps of smoke.
Harold was so tired he could barely lift his feet, and yet he felt such hope, he was giddy with it. If he kept looking at the things that were bigger than himself, he knew he would make it to Berwick."
(All images courtesy of Goodreads)